Despite skepticism from betting markets, the Lakers played like champions last week against Milwaukee and the Clippers. Final scores in those comfortable victories were almost identical.
— Friday, the Lakers (-1.5) beat the Bucks 113-103. Home-court advantage is generally worth three points in the NBA. That betting line means the most important influences on the line believed the Bucks were about 1.5 points better than the Lakers on a neutral court.
— Sunday, the Lakers (+2.5) beat the Clippers 112-103 at their shared Staples Center. Markets thought the Clippers would be about two points better.
LeBron James and company beat expectations by 8.5 and 11.5 points. You’ve likely heard the handicapping angle that high-profile teams are usually overrated because of media hype. The Lakers have covered four in a row and nine of their last 11 and are now 35-26-1 against the spread this season. Backers are up 6.4 betting units after accounting for the standard 10% vigorish on losses.
Sunday’s easy win was particularly impressive because the Clippers had been playing well. The Clippers had covered by 22 against Denver, 10 at Oklahoma City and 14 against Houston, all of whom will be in the Western Conference playoffs.
An overlooked handicapping point is the Lakers play elite defense. Both the Bucks and Clippers scored just 103 points, doing so on 112 and 101 possessions, respectively. The Lakers rank third in the NBA in defensive efficiency, which is points adjusted for pace. (The Clippers are an impressive fifth, which is why they’re also on the short list of serious championship hopefuls.)
This week the Lakers will host Brooklyn on Tuesday before hosting nationally televised games against Houston (7:30 p.m. Thursday, TNT) and Denver (6 p.m. Sunday, ESPN).
The Clippers, still in the black for bettors at 34-29 against the spread (ATS), look to bounce back Tuesday at Golden State (7:30 p.m., TNT), Friday against Brooklyn and Saturday against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.
— USC (-2.5) beat UCLA but didn’t cover Saturday 54-52 to sweep the season series.
USC finished the regular season 22-9 straight up (SU), 19-12 ATS (including 12-4 its last 16 ATS). UCLA finished 19-12 SU and 17-13-1 ATS including 9-3-1 its last 13.
UCLA is the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will begin play Thursday against the winner of No. 7 Stanford and No. 10 California. USC is the No. 4 seed and will also begin Thursday against the winner of No. 5 Arizona and No. 12 Washington.
Here’s an early look at our estimated market Power Ratings entering the event. These are based on a composite of recent point spreads (not seeds) and can be used to project likely spread ranges in any possible matchup:
Oregon 84, Arizona 84, Colorado 82, UCLA 80, USC 79, Stanford 79, Arizona State 79, Oregon State 78, Washington 76, Utah 76, Washington State 72, California 72.
It will be interesting to see if markets adjust to recent misreads. UCLA and USC have been underpriced for weeks. Colorado is 1-8 ATS in its last nine. Arizona State is 0-4-1 ATS in its last five. UCLA could play either Colorado or Arizona State if it reaches the semifinals.
— In the XFL, the Los Angeles Wildcats (-2.5) rallied from an early 24-6 deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Vipers 41-34 in the league’s most exciting game this season.
Quarterback Josh Johnson and the Wildcats’ offense are a perfect nine-for-nine turning red-zone opportunities into touchdowns the last three weeks. Bettors should know which offenses are thriving or struggling in that key stat.
The Wildcats are tied with Dallas in the West Division at 2-3 behind undefeated Houston. The top two teams in each division make the playoffs. The Wildcats, led by a healthy Johnson, have a clear edge over Dallas without injured Landry Jones. The Renegades (-6), starting overmatched backup QB Philip Nelson, were dominated Saturday by the New York Guardians 30-12.
— In Major League Soccer, both Los Angeles teams are in the top six on the championship futures board at Circa Sports in Las Vegas. LAFC tops the league at +350 (risk $100 to earn a profit of $350 that LAFC will win the league title). The Galaxy are sixth on the board at +1500, behind Atlanta +900, New York City FC +900, Seattle +1000 and Toronto +1200.